Self-Rescue and Self-Landing and Self-Exits Course


Understanding Safety Systems:

By David Dorn © Friday, April 12, 2013


Risks and responsibilities:

Kiteboarding is an extreme sport and has inherent risks associated with it. Operating kiteboarding equipment in unsuitable conditions or misuse of equipment can result in serious injury or death. There are also risks associated with inappropriate or malfunctioning equipment. So having a thorough understanding the equipment you are using including its intended purpose and function, and having the knowledge and ability to care and maintain the equipment is an important part of kiteboarding safety.



The most important skill for any kiteboarder is the ability to stop kiting whenever they want.  Stopping means depowering the kite fully.

To depower the kite fully it will rely somewhat on the type of kite being used, and on the configuration of the safety system.


100% depower:

Some kites and bars, will give you 100% Depower,

These are usually the types of safety systems that flag the kite fully by pulling on a single line. We sometimes call these systems flagging safety systems.


Single line safety systems:

When a kite’s safety system is deployed, it allows the kite to flag out by holding tension on one line while all of the other lines go slack.

The safety system needs to be matched to the kite. Because if there is any tension remaining on any of the other lines, the kite can catch wind, and start to rotate. Some people call this the powerloop, or death spiral.

A kite that is power-looping on its own can generate tremendous power, and drag the rider through the water or into solid objects. In a serious power-looping scenario, the rider may have no alternative other than to eject the entire kite.


Different Single Line Safety systems:

Depending on the design, the kite’s safety line, can be any single line. There are some systems that use one of the rear lines, and some that use one of the front lines. And of course the 5th line safety line is usually using the front center line.

Old kites tended to use one of the rear lines, but this was found to cause the kite to loop as it fell. After the kite system was activated, the kite would spiral several times before landing. This would cause the kite lines to become somewhat tangled,  and after activation of the safety system, the kite was also not relaunchable. Later designs, saw the safety systems using one of the front lines, this is preferable to back lines and controls the kite better after safety system activation. The kite can still twist as it falls and relaunching is not recommended because the lines are probably tangled.


About 5th lines systems.

The 5th Line safety system has the advantage of allowing the kite to fall without the lines becoming tangled. After the activation of the safety system, the kite it held with tension on the 5the line which is attached to the center of the kite’s leading edge. This helps the kite to stay is a depowered position that is stable.

However with the advantages of the 5th line come some disadvantages, or quirks.

In strong wind the kite can fly upside down. On the safety line. The kite can stay in the air flying above the water. In these situations the kite can create some drag on the rider and it can be a scary situation for an inexperienced rider. To bring the kite down the rider can haul it down by climbing the safety line hand over hand, and pull the kite down out of the air. Another way to get the kite down is for the rider to swim down-wind vigorously, in an attempt to reduce the kite’s apparent wind and decrease the lift.

When the kiter swims downwind the kite should descend.

For a more experienced rider they can attempt to regain the kite bar, and steer the kite toward the water.  5th line systems also have the reputation of tangling if the 5th line gets over the top of the kite’s canopy. If the kite flips over downwind it can cause the line to wrap around the kite. This happens n waves. If the fifth line gets wrapped the kite will not relaunch.


Checking Safety Systems:

Safety systems need to be tested and checked, for suitability as well as functionality. Kite safety systems need to be checked by experienced kiters. In controlled conditions. (I.E. not strong winds)


Semi-Suicide System:

The other type of safety system that is being used is the semi-suicide system.

The problem with semi suicide systems is that they do not give the rider the ability to depower the kite in all situations.

This is less off a problem in light winds, but is a serious problem in stronger wind,


Mini 5th line systems.

One type of Semi Suicide system is the Mini-5th. Mini fifth lines have a second safety line that goes up to a “V” in the lines, where the two-front lines meet. The safety line pulls equally on the v and both front lines get pulled. The kite can only depower as much as it is designed to do. This depends on the kites shape and the kite’s bridle system.

It should be notes that there are no true 100% depower kites, because all kites generate drag, even when held at  degrees angle of attach or when flagged out from a wing tip or corner. BUT Kites that do not have an SLE or bow type bridle will retain much of their power after their safety systems have been activated.

Of the modern kite shapes, the hybrid kites with mini bridals do this. And C-kites as well.

Deltas and C-Bow style kites.


Autonomous Depower = Autonomous Stopping:

The ability to fully depower the kite is necessary in order to stop. To cease motion is vital when getting close to hazards, obstacles or other kiters.

The kiteboarder needs the ability to autonomously depower the kite and come to a complete standstill. Either on land or in the water.



Any system that does not depower the kite 100% should be considered less than safe.

Semi Suicide safety systems are not recommended for beginners and they are not recommend for use in strong winds.


Ejecting the kite:

In an emergency a semi-suicide system user may need to eject the kite. This is not a good option for two reasons, the kiter loses the kite, and the kite becomes a hazard to other people and property.


Loose Kites:

When a kite gets lose it is a hazard to other kiters and other water users. A loser kite can also become dangerous as it comes onto land, and can cause injuries and property damage.’

Loose kites can entangle the lines of other kiters and burden the victim with a second kite. When the bar of the loose kite hits the lines of the kiter the lose kite can become tangled and get fully powered. When this happens the victim has no control over the parasite kite because its bar is out of reach at close to their own kite. This can easily overwhelm the victim and drag them through the water, or underwater or even into obstacles. This situation has been known to cause fatalities.


Kite leashes:

All kites need safety leashes.

The safety leash is often misunderstood. But one important thing to remember is that one of its jobs of to prevent the kite from getting lose and becoming a hazard to the public.

the kite leash is for everyone else’s safety.

The kite leash also keep the rider in contact with the kite, and prevents many accidental ejections. The kite is a rider’s life line, and becoming accidentally detached from a kite can be distressful an dangerous for the person using the kite as well. A free-swimming kite-less kiter is a difficult target to see for would-be rescuers, and is also difficult to see by other boat traffic,. A free-swimming kiter could be run over by powerboats or other water traffic.

A free-swimming kiter has to swim to shore unaided. And hopefully a free-swimming kiter will be wearing adequate floatation as well. As well and thermal protection to avoid exposure in a prolonged immersion.

After losing a kit